Monday, November 18, 2013

Rolling in Busan

My most recent update has everything to do with activities. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I like to stay busy and I am a woman of many (many, many) interests. Being in a foreign country hasn't stopped me from pursuing my interests!

In addition to buying a sewing machine (yay!), I have begun playing Dungeons & Dragons on Thursdays with a group of friends. I've always been curious about it but never had the chance to play, and here I am! It is pretty entertaining, I'll give it that. Though I'm not sure how exciting of a player I am, given that I am usually zapped by the end of the day.

There is finally a burlesque class in Busan that also offers pole and is near me, so I am going to check it out this weekend and see if it is up to snuff. A friend of mine from D&D has started a Sacred Harp singing group, which I have yet to experience but am looking forward to, and I am also adopting a cat next weekend! So I will have a lovely kitty friend to come home to on these long winter nights.

But my main activity as of late, and one that I hope to really pursue steadily from now is, is roller derby.

I was first introduced to roller derby when I was in high school and my best friend took me to a bout. I had never even heard of it before, and it was an amateur league in Phoenix that was just skating flat track at a tiny hockey rink. I was immediately fascinated and actively went to bouts throughout the years, and have always wanted to join, but always found some reason or another not to (money, transportation, etc.). That league now plays at one of the biggest stadiums in Phoenix and draw loads of people and vendors to their bouts (this is the Arizona Derby Dames btw), and they even have a traveling team.

Before coming to Korea, I had done some research on my own, in pursuit of a derby league and was happy to discover the ROKD (Republic of Korea Derby). However, much to my disappointment, they only had teams in Seoul and Daegu. How could they not have a team in Busan?! So I e-mailed them asking for more info, and was met with "Well, if you can get enough girls interested, then you can start a Busan team!" Eehh, not exactly what I wanted to here after being here for only 2 months. But I thought, you know what, it's worth a shot, so I posted in a bunch of the Busan Facebook groups, asking if anyone was interested and I got a good number of responses.

We now have 8 skaters (we need 6 more to be an official team, so if you know anyone!), of all different levels, and I can honestly say that it is one of the best things I've ever done with my spare time. At first it was kind of daunting, having last been on roller skates when I was about 12, but with some practice and confidence, I think I'm a pretty decent skater! I had always wanted to play sports as a kid, but never really had the opportunity, and now I can finally revel in the feeling of athleticism that roller derby gives me. Not only is it a great workout, but it's great to be on a team and to be playing a game and getting that rush. All this, and I haven't even played in an actual bout!! I also got nominated to be the team's treasurer, so that's lovely too! I can't wait to see where this takes me :D

So naturally this was a shameless plug for the team. Anyone who is even vaguely interested should come out and give it a go, you've got nothing to lose (except maybe your balance).


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Culture Shock: The Changing Tune

So over the past two weeks, culture shock has been hitting me pretty hard. My first month was nothing but sunshine and rainbows and discovery. Then slowly things started irritating me; why does my coteacher not take any of my suggestions? Why is my head coteacher making this so complicated? Why can't people understand me when I try to speak Korean? Why are the students misbehaving? How come they don't listen to me? Why are we teaching the students this? It isn't even correct! This is so frustrating! I'm so frustrated, nobody talk to me. Why does everyone keep talking? Will my head coteacher please just stop mothering me?! To add insult to injury, I got a cold last week which has put me in an even worse mood. At work I began to feel as if my lack of pep was making my coworkers uncomfortable. I became kind of paranoid that they were throwing shade in Korean, while I sat, isolating myself with my headphones because I would rather be isolated with English audio than isolated in a Korean conversation. It feels like time is on warp speed, and I'm not appreciating any of it.

I have noticed that things haven't been peachy, and I definitely haven't, but I didn't want it to stay that way. It's so easy to feel isolated from Korean society, not knowing the language. But to some degree, I will always be isolated, because I'm not Korean and I never will be. However, that shouldn't mean that I should be crabby with people at work for no reason! And I realized this and it was plaguing me. Yesterday, I hit a switch.

I went to my first roller derby practice in Daegu. My first time in Daegu, I didn't really see much of the city. But something about it, being so small and slow, not like Busan or Seoul which are bustling constantly. Something about that really struck a chord, where I just felt the urge to slow my mental gears. To stop overthinking and getting worked up about all the things that have been bugging me. I started to play a song in my head, and it just fit the feeling I had inside. Each place I've been to belongs to a song, and I found the song for South Korea and it changed my attitude in an instant. If I were back home in the states, working a new job, sure there would be little things that bug me about my coworkers, but would I let it plague me this? Hell no. So why should it be different here? I do my best at my job, and I try to be as friendly as I can. What more could I do? Why should I think that my coteachers don't have enough things to worry about, that they would have time to secretly talk shit about me?

I had a lovely weekend, and I am back to starting to feel physically active again (playing roller derby and soccer on the weekends), and it is doing me a world of good. I'm trying to manage my time so I can spend it really doing the things I love. And I'm going to try to make an effort to get out more on my own and see things through the Sam lens, not in a group lens.

So the new vibe for me is what I tell my students:


Here's to person adventures!


P.S. Here's some pictures from last weekend's Herb Festival in Yeongcheon.

Sand mermaid at Haeundae Beach <3


ImGo Traditional School

More ImGo

and some more

at the Herb Festival
bridge at the festival

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Chuseok: To Everland & Seoul!

Last week I had my first Chuseok experience. Chuseok is this big Korean holiday, kind of like the American Thanksgiving. Everyone gets together with their relatives in their hometowns, eats more than is humanly possible, and hangs out. This year Chuseok gave us a 5 day holiday, so woohoo! In honor of this, my friend Eric and I took off to Seoul for a few days to inspect things and to check out Everland. Everland is like Korean Disneyland (sort of) and they were having a special event Chuseok price for foreigners, so we were all over it!

We took the train to Seoul on Wednesday, which was so absurdly long, and then stayed in a hostel called Seoul Base Camp. It was actually kind of like a camp, with no real walls (more like thick canvas curtains), but it had everything one needs and everyone was lovely and helpful so no complaints here.

Thursday morning we set off for Everland. Allow me to elaborate on the hectic process of getting there. There is a subway line that goes straight there, but it does take a bit of time. Not as much time as you'll spend trying to take the bus tho! We got to Gangnam Station (shameless photo below...) around 10:15, and the bus arrived.

Oh but buses here... basically, the bus is going 70 mph, it stops somewhere on the bus stop and everyone clamors to get onto it. No order, no line, just bodies on the bus until it is full (and I don't mean legal safety full, I mean, there is no more floor space anywhere, including the exit steps). We missed 2 more buses due to this crowded mess, but eventually caught one around 10:45. While waiting at the stop we got chummy with some Eastern Europeans, with whom we shared the floor space (including one dude who was sitting on the exit steps).

The whole trip took about 2 hours, and once we got to Everland, I immediately proceeded to buy some cat ears because I couldn't help myself. Just like any amusement park, everything was overpriced. We wandered, went on a few rides, ate some peanut butter roasted squid (which was just absurdly delicious, let me say) and had an all around good time.

Friday we spent wandering around Seoul, checking out Seoul tower (which is on a giant hill by the way, which was torturous for me to climb, also by the way. I don't hike), scoping Itaewon and generally doing quite a bit of walking. Good times all around tho, and I can say that I have been to Seoul.

Real talk: Most of the time I was in Seoul, I forgot that I was in Seoul. Going anywhere in Korea, it seems, is just kind of like this huge bombardment of flashing lights and neon, so there's nothing particularly unique about streets in Seoul versus streets in Busan. I mean, I didn't spend that much time in Seoul, but I would be down for Busan in a heartbeat. It's basically got everything Seoul has, but with a beach! You can't go wrong.

Now it's almost the weekend, and the next 2 weeks are bringing more holidays so bring on the fun!

At the top of N Seoul Tower

Delicious squid


Walking towards the tower

Gangnam Style dance...I had to...

Not in Seoul, but a "wild" shrimp burger + snow crab nuggets from Lotteria

At Busan Station!

On the roof of the hostel

Eric and nice girl from Slovakia

Pretty Czech guy who got stuck on the exit steps

Everland! Yes!

Holiday tree!

My magnificent cat ears. 

Waiting for the T Express will put you up to this.

Korean BBQ, Gangnam Style

On Namsan mountain!

Panorama of one small (small, small...) part of the city

View of N Seoul Tower from Itaewon

and beer and soju and ramen 

I was drunk, but this guy was soooo trashed

Bye bye Seoul!

Until next time!


Friday, September 13, 2013

Peculiar Peculiarities

Greetings readers!

Well, I've been here officially 2.5 weeks and I'm loving it. I'm learning Korean and things are going really well at work! I didn't know that Korean (elementary school) English teachers aren't required to know English haha. So that's been an experience. English learning here is a foreign language, not a second one, so most of the class is taught in Korean. Hey, it is what it is! 

I teach 5th and 6th grades. The 5th graders are amazing and great, so dedicated and cute. The 6th graders are....a nightmare, as they talk (not quietly) in class during the lessons and are just generally nonchalant about everything, but I pin it on us not having a lot of room for creativity with the curriculum, as they all are basically working towards standardized tests all the time. Lame! 

I'm taking Korean classes, and I'm picking it up pretty quickly. I've got a decent handle on the alphabet, which is of the utmost importance. I mean, charades will get you a long way, but it's so much nicer being able to communicate. I can practice reading everywhere I go though, which is great! Yet I feel super silly doing that, as I feel just like I'm little again haha I haven't had to deal with being illiterate since first grade!! 

Other interesting things about Korean life
  • You can't flush toilet paper, you have to throw it away. 
  • McDonald's delivers on a scooter. 
  • Good luck finding cheese. 
  • People will stare at you. All the time.
  • People will also compliment you on the most random things. I've been told that I have a small face, that I'm "very active", that I'm "diligent." Korean compliments, gotta love em. 
  • The trash system is no joke. There are few (and I mean like 3) public trash cans. And at home, you have to separate recycle from non-recycle and food waste, and then go to the sorting facility in the basement and sort it out yourself. It's cool but also bahh!
  • Driving here is insane. Scooters drive on the sidewalk, sometimes cars park on the sidewalk, sometimes they park on street corners at an intersection, like it doesn't make any sense haha. But that's Korea for you!
This is definitely not a parking spot.

Driving in Korea, not for the faint of heart!

I have my little "foreign family" which is great, it's so wonderful to have a group of people to share the ups and downs with. And, no offense to my co-teachers, it's great to be able to speak in English without having to think about it. I'm petitioning to get an after school drama club started, as a good way for the kids to get to know me better and for them to have a space to come out of their shells a bit (99.9% of my students, and perhaps Koreans in general, are almost absurdly shy). Plus it's got music, dancing, costumes, woooo! Could be great!

Chuseok holiday is upon us, so I'm off to Seoul tomorrow night. Let's see what else Korea is cookin up for me.

Until next time!


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Greetings from the East

I have arrived! In one piece, with no problems J I am currently at orientation at Jeonju University, in Jeonju City, doin the damn thing. So far, things have been kind of a blur. My roommate is cool, internet is working, Korean TV is entertaining, the humidity is...high.

Feelings so far? It's hard to say. Now that I have internet access, I do feel better, as it was making me kind of anxious not being able to talk to friends and family and let them know that I'm okay. That, the jet lag, and the jam-packed orientation schedule was making me feel just exhausted, mentally and physically. Today feels better, as I slept like 9 hours and I think my jet lag is just about gone, and I'm getting into the step of things. I was e-mailed by the teacher I'm replacing at my school in Busan, and she let me know almost everything I'll need to know about my apartment/school/grades I'll be teaching/etc. Super helpful! Except that my new co-teacher would like me to make an appointment at the immigration office for the day I arrive, and the website is entirely in Korean. Yikes! Another unnecessary stress factor that I would like to eliminate as soon as possible!

I do really miss my fam and friends. It's only been 2 days and I already can't wait to talk to them on Skype. Orientation classes start today, which is good, because I am feeling very intimidated right now. It seems like so many of the people here are not nervous at all and I feel like I am the only one who feels like a deer in the headlights. I have taught a bit before, but I've never had a job outside of school so not only is this my first time really teaching, it's also my first real job so I am beyond nervous. I remember my first job (hostess at a restaurant in high school) and the first day when they tried to explain everything to me; I immediately felt confused and terrified because I thought Oh my god, I can't do this. But I had to do it, and eventually it became easy and habit. I'm expecting this will be a similar experience, and I hope to do as much prep work as I can to make it a little less painful. First stop: Make a powerpoint!

In other news, I need to learn Korean on the double. Last night I went with my roommate (who is ethnic Korean and speaks some) to the cafe across the street, and felt too intimidated to say 'Lemonade.....kamsahamneda', so she ordered for me (using many more words than I could have concocted). That feeling of dependency and total ineptitude on my part brought memories of being younger, before I could speak Spanish well, and visiting El Salvador. I had to follow my mom everywhere because I wasn't able to communicate with people, and I hated that feeling so much that I vowed to learn Spanish upon my return (y aquí estoy yo). Now that fire has returned, and my next conquest is Hangul. Bring it on!

Now I'm going to lay down in front of the A/C unit, because it is as humid as Virginia right now, and watch cute K-Pop stars on TV. 

Until next time!


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Blast off!

My bags are packed and I'm ready to go (I'm standing here...outside your door..). But really though, I am ready for take-off!! It's kind of crazy to pack for an entire year. It feels like you need so much (but probably don't in reality), and then step back and realize that practically your entire life can be put into 4 bags.

I'm sitting here in Phoenix Sky Harbor airport, waiting for my flight to LAX (where I will have a lovely 5 hour layover, ain't it grand!). I'm hoping to buy some food and furry socks while there, and that I will have no problem with my carry-on weight (Thai Airways allegedly weighs your carry-on item...who knew?). Feeling a combination of excitement, anxiety and actually a little fear (hey, it's the unknown you know).

I've got my flight comfort crew with me which consists of my trusty stuffed bear Gus (pics of him later), a fully charged iPod that my boyfriend updated, his hoodie and several books:

  1. Les Choses by Georges Perec
  2. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen (duh)
  3. The Corset & The Crinoline: An Illustrated History by W.B. Lord
  4. Bare Essentials: Bras - Construction and Pattern Drafting for Lingerie Design by Jennifer Lynn
I'll be a seamstress with no machine in Korea, so I have to make do with a brand new sketchbook, some colored pencils, drafting books and the knitting I brought with me. My hands can't be idle for too long!

Part of me is wondering what kind of experience I'll have. Admittedly, my life's goal is not to be an English teacher, so I do find some of the zeal with which the other teachers have for teaching to be kind of intimidating (I think I'm a better dance teacher than an English teacher). Will it be great and interesting and rewarding? Will I just so happen to only experience the horror stories that people speak of? I guess we'll find out! 

I do feel kind of sad, as I'm leaving behind my fam, friends and beloved boifu, and I did do all the crying (to which the TSA people were lovely about btw, they gave me tissues and comforted me as I went through security) but life is ahead of me and there's no turning back!

My next post will be from South Korea, wish me luck and safe travels!


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Mogi Crackdown

I am just one of those people that attract mosquitoes. For whatever reason, I will get 20 bites while the person next to me gets maybe 1. I have been known to douse myself in DEET when visiting the East Coast in the summer or the woods; it becomes my regular perfume (everyone always says it smells bad, but I suppose I don't mind it because I am so comforted by its presence). It also just happens that I am allergic to mosquito bites as well. When most people say "Oh look, I got a bite", I am in the corner nursing the giant mega welts that formed as a result of several bites being close together. Now living in San Diego and then Phoenix, mosquitoes aren't too much of an issue. Depending on where I am, I get the occasional bite, but I keep a tube of hydrocortizone or calamine lotion in the bathroom and usually I'm fine in a few days. However, it just never occurred to me that mosquitoes would be a big issue during my travels. So wrong.

While researching about South Korea, I came across a topic that grabbed my immediate attention: the Korean mosquito. Now, after reading several blogs and forums on this topic of people who are suffering night after night because the mosquitoes in Korea are like little blood-sucking ninjas, I have made it a top priority to bring as much anti-mosquito shit as I can fit in my suitcase. Why? Cos I don't play. In addition to that, Busan has recently had a rise in Japanese Encephalitis infected mosquitoes. Hell nah. 

Call me paranoid or whatever, I do not care. I will take garlic supplements and wear DEET by DEET every day if it will keep bites to a minimum. 

So I've been doing my research, and I have prepared my little mosquito fighting(!!) kit to hold me over until I can get to the store. 

Clockwise from bottom left

  • 2 cans of OFF! and 1 bottle of Repel: I know people have weirdness about DEET, and everyone wants to go natural, but sometimes there are just jobs that only chemicals can do (i.e. baking soda v. Ajax, sorry honey, gimme dat Ajax!), and I will employ whatever works. You will soon realize that I'm only a half-hearted naturalist. Also, will spray my window screens with this Off. I bought the DEET-free Repel for good measure so I don't poison myself all at once. 
  • Duct tape: Until I can get my hands on some silicone caulk or mosquito net repair tape, I will crush the shit out some garlic and duct tape every single crack. And it's just handy. 
  • Garlic supplements: Read this is a big mosquito deterrent and would rather not rub raw garlic all over myself. Let's get this shit going on a chemical level. You know what, why don't I just put garlic in everything I eat. I'll be that teacher that smells like garlic and kimchi. You love me. Note-to-self: Experiment with making garlic-centered bath products that fuck up mosquitoes. Make a million dollars.
  • Citronella candle madness: Wanted to get the big candle pots of citronella but, packing room! Again, another smell that does not bother me. I actually think it's kind of nice and smokey. Makes me think of being in the woods, if I could be in the woods. 
  • Bug Band Water Resistant Repellent Band: Basically a reusable band that can be worn or just placed near you that repels all these mo'fuckin bugs. We'll see how it works. 
Not pictured:

  • After-Bite ointment + hydrocortizone. The hydroC has been my friend and companion for many years now. When the inevitable bite does happen, then I will be equipped to deal. I have only recently heard of After-Bite, as my 'outdoors' time is either dry as hell or on the Southern California coastline. But if it works, I will try it!
  • Benadryl + Claritin. I already have a bottle of Benadryl from my Wisconsin adventure, but the Claritin will come in handy. Sometimes I want Benadryl to make my ass drowsy, maybe I won't think about itching for a while (must remember to stock alcohol in the house too, for those nasty bites so I can get drunk and not give a shit). If I need to go to work, Claritin would be better. 
  • Mosquito coils: Heard these come in handy as well, burn them everywhere!! 
 Something I would like to find eventually:

  • Peppermint, eucalyptus and citronella oil + oil burner or reed diffuser. Read that they hate this shit with a passion, so naturally it's on my to-buy list. In addition to this, reed diffuser bottles and reed replacements. They are small, pretty, portable, and no flame needed. Depending on how many bottles I can get, I could even bring one to class (to put on my desk of course). Can be placed near windows and other openings and they last for months. 

Stuff I will buy upon arrival:
  1. Mosquito nets: I have been perusing GMarket and came across what looks to be the most beautiful invention ever made. A mosquito net for the bed that looks like a giant tent (tucks under the mattress) looks like it's going to be my savior. Also saw some mosquito nets for the doorways that close magnetically. I'm on it!
    Mosquito net side note: It occurred to me that the more barriers I have, the better. And those mosquito nets that hang from the ceiling are not as effective for sleepytime. HOWEVER, they can and will serve a purpose. I have read many a tale about mosquitoes coming in through drains and a/c vents. Oh but wait! Why not cut up one of those big flouncy mosquito nets and put the pieces over all of these openings? Water can still get through (in the case of the shower drain) but the netting should be tight enough to prevent mosquito entry, oui? Well, it's worth a shot in any case! I'll have scissors and duct tape, I'll document the results. 
  2. Wall plug thing: I have heard that these are rather effective, so add it to the list!
  3. Electric Bug Swatter: I had never heard of these before I started my Death to Mosquitoes campaign and they sound pretty awesome. I feel that it even if I do get bitten (which will eventually happen), I will get so much joy out of killing these little dicks with electricity that it will almost make up for it. 
  4. Silicone caulk: For any cracks in the window screens. Whilst in Wisconsin, we had window screens, yet there was a small crack all the way around the edges. I woke up the next morning to find them desperately trying to squeeze through. Naturally I pulled out the fly swatter and went ham on them (and god did it feel good), but yeah. Cracks need filling. 
  5. Mosquito screen repair tape: Apparently this is a thing, which is cool, because I can put it over my a/c vents as well. 
  6. Fans: Two by my bed (I fear no fan death), maybe another to spread the scents around. Get bent mosquitoes. 
I know this all seems rather ridiculous, but do I care? It's not even worth answering. I want to be able to have my windows open, or walk around in my underwear in my own damn house. There are other variables here, where my apartment is, is it old, is it new, etc. So we'll see! I'm looking forward to taking that picture of my place once it has been mosquito booby-trapped, it might look like a fantasy hospital. 


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Welcome to SamTime

Well, my first post in what I hope will be a really great chronicle of my Korean adventures and then some. It must be said that I haven't yet left for Korea. I leave at 7 AM on the 18th of this month, so I've still got some time to get all my stuff sorted.

A little background on myself, so you know who you're dealing with. Born and raised in San Diego for half o my life, and the other half spent in the cruel heat of Phoenix, I'm a recent college grad from Arizona State. I'm an aspiring polyglot, as I aim to learn as many languages as I can fit into my head (currently speaking: Spanish, French, basic Portuguese, really lame Swedish, and baby-level Korean). I'm a person of many, many (many, many...) interests, so I guess you can expect a wide variety of topics to be covered here, but my biggest passion in life is costume design. I'm an anime/history nerd so my dream job is to one day do costume design for film and TV. Gimme dat Oscar (or BAFTA...)!

So what am I going to be doing in South Korea? Well, following the tradition of travelers who need money, I will be teaching English with EPIK. I applied to go to Busan because a.) it's really difficult to get into Seoul b.) Busan is the second biggest city behind Seoul and I'm a city girl and c.) THE BEACH. I can't handle being hours from the coast anymore, so now I will be in a city by the sea and can pretend like I'm Kiki. My biggest dream in life is not to be an English teacher, but I'm willing to learn anything new so I thought I'd give teaching abroad a shot to take a break from student life for a while and see a bit more of the world.

As the big departure gets closure, I'll update post a little more, so until then!